Reflections on a Bar Mitzvah

The large California branch of the Tugend family flew to New York to celebrate the bar mitzvah of grandson Benjamin at a temple in suburban Larchmont, N.Y., last November, just before Thanksgiving.

Ben’s older cousins in Van Nuys had marked their bar and bat mitzvahs years earlier, so we had some combat experience, yet for our partly secular, partly intermarried clan, there were some aspects that gave pause for reflection.

Rachel and I have three daughters and none of them had a bat mitzvah. The subject never came up, partly because in those days, and where we lived, there wasn’t the peer pressure or the neighborly competitiveness to mark the transition.

For another, Rachel grew up in an Orthodox home in the Shaarey Hessed quarter of Jerusalem — where on Shabbat the streets are blocked to car traffic by chains — among five sisters and one brother. The idea of a bat mitzvah ceremony — to say nothing of an expensive party — was not even remotely on anyone’s agenda.

Ben’s mother, our daughter Alina, married a non-Jew, but that was no obstacle (except for the passing of the Torah from generation to generation, which skipped Mark) because the father threw himself fully into the three-year planning for Ben’s bar mitzvah.

The ceremony went off beautifully in every way, but left our family with some stray thoughts (not to mention concrete bills).

Though I am not much given to pondering the past, I couldn’t help thinking back to my own 1938 bar mitzvah in Berlin, a few months before the synagogue was torched during Kristallnacht.

More immediate were thoughts on how much real meaning I could attach to a ritual, which, admittedly, touched my grandfatherly heart, but not my skeptical mind.

Fortunately, Alina wrestled with the same reservations and wrote about them in her regular New York Times column.

So, without apology, I quote Alina (if you can’t plagiarize from your own children, who can you plagiarize from?).

In her column, Alina mused about the intersection of religion and consumerism, which marks so many of our celebrations, as she watched her son “perform the centuries-old ritual of reading from the Torah and the decades-old ritual of rocking with the D.J.”

Somewhat to her surprise, I think, the religious aspect got to her. She wrote, “Ritual is a way to mark life’s transitions and it also is a way to make time stop for a moment in the blur of life, to gather family and friends for a rare moment of acknowledgment.

“In the end, our celebration was a wonderful combination of ancient observance and modern suburban tradition. Ben did indeed get lifted up in a chair, but then he and his guests played foosball and air hockey. There was a candle lighting ceremony, but more important to my younger son, there was a (small) chocolate fountain.

“If it all sounds corny, it’s because what is so hard to capture is the ineffable spirit of warmth and generosity we felt with our closest friends and family gathered around us.”


Leonore Arvidson died April 26 at 80. She is survived by her daughter, Enid; son, Dean; grandson, Ben; sisters, Bea (Max) Perlberg and Char Goldberg; and brother, Stan Charnofsky. Mount Sinai

HERMAN BRAGER died April 23 at 76. He is survived by his wife, Betty; son, Steven; daughter, Rhonda; one grandchild; and sister, Estelle Singer. Hillside

Rodman Rubin Cohen died April 27 at 82. He is survived by his wife, Rose; sons, Jeffrey (Judie), Paul (Kathy) and Mark (Maribel); daughter Joan (Steven) Soltz; 12 grandchildren; and brother, Herman (Terry). Mount Sinai

SONDRA SHAMES-COHEN died April 27 at 73. She is survived by her husband, Morton Cohen; children Mickey (Steven) Lewis and Brad (Julie) Shames; 11 grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter. Hillside

Nettie Condon died April 26 at 91. She is survived by her sons, John (Cyd) and Frank; and granddaughter, Chloe. Mount Sinai

SUSAN COOPER died April 29 at 62. She is survived by her husband, Steven; son, Todd (Alexandra); and three grandchildren. Hillside

Morris Farkas died April 26 at 93. He is survived by his son, Morris. Groman

Jerry Freeman died April 30. He is survived by his wife, Aviva; daughters, Leslie Aaronson and Nili Ovsiwitz; one grandchild; and sister, Judith Kahn. Groman

MAX GEFFNER died April 26 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Valerie; sons, Sandy (Ellen) and Bob (Ellen); daughters Nola (George) Geffner-Mihlsten ; stepson, Steve; and eight grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Zena Gold died April 30 at 90. She is survived by her daughters, Judith (David) Rosenthal and Maxine (Lloyd) Kouri; grandchildren, Greg (Barbara) Rosenthal and Tina Kouri; and sister, Ina Gruman. Mount Sinai

Mae Goldberg died April 8 at 98. She is survived by her son, Maurice; daughter, Marcia Gomberg; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Bertha Goldstein died April 24 at 80. She is survived by her husband, Julian; son, Steve (Judy); daughter, Ellen (Stephen) Goldstein-Tersigni; three grandchildren; brother, Irving (Arlene) Shapiro. Mount Sinai

DOROTHY SARA HOFFS died April 22 at 94. She is survived by her sons, Dr. Josh (Tamar) and Dr. Malcolm (Ellen); six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Hillside

JACK JOSEPH JACOBSON died April 26 at 93. He is survievd by his wife, Libbie; children, Annee Tara (Tom Rumpf) and Tom Jacobson; grandchildren Ethan Jacobson and Leah (Jake) Schug; and great-grandchild, Alexander Joaquin Schug. Hillside

Arnold Kaplan died April 28 at 63. He is survived by his wife, Sheila; children, Alison (Jan) Kelleter, Howard and Lorn; two grandchildren; and mother, Mildred. Mount Sinai

Charlene Karwoski died May 2 at 74. She is survived by her daughters, Marcy Brenner and Rose Arellanes; sons, Sanford (Lena) Brenner, Frank (Kim), Vince (Mary) and William Arellanes; 10 grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and brother, Howard (Bea) Block. Mount Sinai

Morris Katz died April 24 at 92. He is survived by his sons, Martin and Carl; brother, Nathan; and sister, Gertrude Linder. Mount Sinai

Dr. Gregorio Kazenelson died April 24 at 71. He is survived by his wife, Barbara; and daughter, Debra (Jeff) Dean. Malinow and Silverman

Rose Kravitz died April 30 at 89. She is survived by her sons, Sheldon (Denise) and Herbert (Eleanor); and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai

MATTHEW CAMERON LEWIS died April 26 at 18. He is survived by his parents, Adena Berger and Robert; grandparents, Sheldon and Venita Berger; and sisters, Rachel, Lilly and Olivia. Hillside

EMANUEL LIGHT died April 24 at 90. He is survived by his wife, Celia; sons, Jeffrey (Francine), Donald (Jane) and Dennis; four grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters. Hillside

Carol Love died April 25 at 56. She is survived by her sons, Bellaamy Mitchell, and John Brink; daughter Maydee Mitchell; and three grandchildren. Groman

Evelyn Magid died April 29 at 92. She is survived by her daughter, Bonnie (Barrett) Bearson; son, Jerry; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

RICHARD NEAL NORTH died April 26 at 53. He is survived by his father, Milton; and cousin, Don Preston. Hillside

LISA BLOCH OLSHANSKY, died April 29. She is survived by her husband, Richard Olshansky; children, Amy Rose, Chaysen and Max; parents, Richard and Nancy Bloch; and brothers, Andrew and Jonathan Malinow and Silverman

Teresa Perchuk died May 1 at 88. She is survived by her daughters, Felica Lopez and Silvia; and two grandchildren. Mount Sinai

MAC RAFF died April 29 at 86. He is survived by his son, Mitch; and sister, Sally Springer. Sholom Chapels

Nat Regenstreif died May 1 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Vivian; sons, Ron (Roxann) and Allan (Adele); three grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and sisters, Irene (Martin) Travis and Marlene Semel.

Rebecca Rosen died April 29 at 91. She is survived by her son, Albert Rosen; daughter, Elissa Berzon; five grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. Groman

Judy Rothstein died May 2 at 75. She is survived by her sons, Ron, Glen and Kenny; daughter, Gail Ream; two grandchildren; brother, Leonard Abraham. Groman

MARY ANN SACHERMAN died April 21 at 82. She is survived by her daughters, Lynne (Dennis) Fliegelman and Lynda (Michael) Rubenstein; grandchildren, Natalie and Alex; and sister, Sally Cole. Hillside

EDWARD SARROW died April 24 at 82. He is survived by his companion, Phyllis Ames; son, Ron; three grandchildren; brother, Arnie.

Marion Schneider died April 24 at 82. She is survived by her husband, Martin; children, Ronald (Terry), Avery (Barbara) and Wendy; granddaughter, Juliette; and brother, David (Gina) Tepper. Mount Sinai

ALAN SCHULTZ died April 21 at 61. He is survived by his wife, Harriet; sons, Randy (Jill) and Rob; mother, Bella; brother, Steven; sisters, Gail and Joy; and friend, Elaine Saller. Hillside

John Bruce Sills died May 1 at 62. He is survived by his wife, Patricia; mother, Edythe Fahringer; and brothers, Steven and Mickey. Groman

Henry Silver died April 27 at 94. He is survived by his nieces, Miriam (Asher) Harel and Jean Priver. Mount Sinai

Howard Sookman died April 30, at 80. He is survived by his wife, Shirley; daughters, Barbara (Cantor Edwin) Gerber and Sheryl; and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai

SHERRI LEE STONE died May 1 at 59. She is survived by her husband, Michael; children Aaron (Lisa) and Joshua; mother, Rebecca Orinstein; sisters Carol (Jon) Swinnerton and Harriet Orinstein; parents-in-law, Oscar and Shirley; brothers in-law, Bruce (Susan) and Hal (Lynda Stone); and eight nieces and nephews. Hillside

Adele Strauss died April 28 at 93. She is survived by sons, Dr. Ronald (Susie) and Stephen; granddaughter, Valerie; and niece, Helen Kurtz . Mount Sinai

Shirley Venger died April 27 at 81. She is survived by her daughter, Paula (Ed) Albert; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

RANDY LEE WEIL died April 25 at 52. She is survived by her mother, Ruth; sister, Sharon (John) Aaron; and friend, Rabbi Judith Halevy. Hillside

SPENCER JAY WILLENS died May 1 at 78. He is survived by his wife, Harriet; children Douglas, Donald, Michael, Damon and Stacey; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Hillside

Gazella Yaffe died April 24 at 89. She is survived by her son, Richard; daughter, Barbara Feinberg; and two grandchildren. Groman

A Double Mitzvah

If one follows the traditional Jewish philosophy that a lifetime is 70 years, Dr. Hy Goldman was symbolically reborn on April 22, 2000. It’s a philosophy Goldman likes, and thus followed to the next logical conclusion — that he should reaffirm his commitment to Judaism with a second bar mitzvah at the age of 83 (age 70 plus 13). That his grandson, Jason, decided to join him by becoming a bar mitzvah for the first time, at age 21, only added to the uniqueness of the occasion.

On Friday, April 25, 2003, Hy and Jason Goldman were called to the Torah as b’nai mitzvah at Temple Beth Am in San Pedro.

On a day that could have been an opportunity to honor the life achievements of Hy Goldman, himself, the elder Goldman dedicated his moment on the bimah to five deceased friends and colleagues. Dr. Goldman, Sam Kaminker, Syd Greenberg, Harold Brenner, Max Raush and Morrie Schwartz worked together at the Bureau of Jewish Education for many years, developing curricula and programs like Havurat Noar and conducting teacher seminars and camp conclave programs.

"Having done it, it marked the completion," he said. "It feels good because these were men who had really put in a lot of work. I felt that something was due to them, and since I am their survivor, I needed to be the one to say that it was worth something."

For his grandson, Jason, the experience was a long time coming. While Jason had wanted to have a bar mitzvah when he was 13, he’d had a difficult time in Hebrew school and wasn’t able to keep up with his studies at the time.

This time, Jason managed to learn his part with the help of his fiancée, Rebeccah Goldware, he said.

"She was the one who taught me how to read, how to do the prayers for everything. She was my teacher for this," Jason said.

The family celebrated with dinner before, and an oneg following the Friday night service.

Jason Goldman and Rebeccah Goldware will be married on August 24, 2003, adding another simcha for the Goldmans this year.

Diagnosis: Grandfather

"The Grandfather Thing" by Saul Turteltaub (Tallfellow Press, $16.95).

Saul Turteltaub, whom I’ve known for a good many years, is a funny man and a funny television writer. If you laughed at "The Carol Burnett Show," "The Jackie Gleason Show," "That Girl" or "The Cosby Show," tip your hat to Turteltaub, because they are among the 30 major TV shows he has written or produced over a 40- year span.

Then he became a grandfather. In the beginning, he vowed to observe the arrival of grandson Max with strict objectivity, and he stuck to his resolve for the first two months of Max’s wrinkled and screaming babyhood.

But then Turteltaub weakened, and within months he was off showing photos of Max to strangers in the next car at traffic lights.

The only possible diagnosis was that Turteltaub had caught "The Grandfather Thing," which happened to be the title of his book, complemented by, "the real poop by Max, age 1."

In the slim, 96-page volume, the author chronicles, month by month, Max’s progress and the increasingly affectionate relationship between grandfather and grandson.

Fortunately, the author also records Max’s observations on life, and even a poem, at each of the 12 stages. For instance, at five months, Max rhymes:

"I notice when I laugh and smile
My parents do it too,
But when I cry they only sigh
And don’t know what to do.
‘He’s tired, hungry, or he’s wet,’
Are all the choices that I get.
I’m five months old,
Why don’t they guess,
‘Perhaps he wants a game of chess.’"

At the end of 12 months, Max observes, "Just because I don’t talk doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. Stand by."

The final page contains famous, and famously unsentimental, grandfather quotations, such as Nancy Spence’s "Grandchildren are the only justification for not having killed our kids," and Turteltaub’s own "There is no woman more precious than the daughter who will not allow her father to change her child’s diapers."

To Let Go, to Love, to Forgive

“I have good news! My cancer is in remission.” I’ve called Elsie Schwartz to talk about the High Holy Days, but the news about her illness is an unexpected surprise and a huge relief. At 89, Elsie has taught me a great deal about life and about choosing to face death by living fully and fully loving.

I ask Elsie to tell me how forgiveness enters into her life.

“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t carry a grudge,” Elsie says. “I look for forgiveness. It’s part of my heritage as a Jew. They tell us in the Torah, ‘To forgive is divine. If you forgive others, God forgives you.'”Elsie makes it sound so simple.

According to psychiatrist and author Dr. Gerald Jampolsky, “Forgiveness means letting go of the past.” But so many of us seem determined to cling to past hurts and resentments, as if these provide some odd form of safety or control. I know the challenge of letting go of disappointments from one’s past and the pain, for instance, of not having an all-accepting, always-loving mother. I can see how forgiveness isn’t possible if one is still hanging on to such old stuff. But what a relief when we do, like a weight being lifted.

“I’ll tell you something,” Elsie says. “I had a friend who’s the opposite of me. She hasn’t talked to her daughter for years, because she doesn’t know how to forgive. Well, this friend got angry at me when I suggested that she help her daughter out when the daughter was in need. When I knew she was angry, I told her I was sorry I’d upset her, but instead of letting it go, she hasn’t spoken to me in two years.”

Elsie apparently tried various ways to bring down the wall her friend erected, to no avail. When Elsie found out she had cancer, mutual friends told this friend, but she never called Elsie.

One day, Elsie ran into this woman. “I told her that I forgave her for being so angry at me and for not talking to me,” said Elsie. “I told her that, now that she knows I’ve forgiven her, when I die she won’t feel uncomfortable. Jewish law says that if you’re still angry with someone when they die and you hadn’t forgiven them, you have to go to their grave and ask for their forgiveness. I felt good about saying this to her.”

Imake an effort to apply to my own life what I learn from people like Elsie. This New Year, I have a perfect opportunity. For better or worse, by the time Rosh Hashanah begins, my sister and I will have transferred my mother’s primary care to strangers.

It’s been a painful, difficult decision, but the assisted-living facility near my sister in North Carolina seems to be the best place for mom, now 82, to grow older and to be taken care of. Unfortunately, her dementia means that mom doesn’t recall that she agreed to the plan. She’s extremely angry with us for “putting her away,” as she calls it. “We would never have done this to our parents,” she bitterly told me in a recent phone call.

As the New Year approaches, I consider my mother’s frightening transition, her anger – and her rather nasty comments to my sister and me that are reminiscent of past interactions with her. I reflect on a host of feelings and memories (both painful and joyful) that we each have from our family’s past, and I see that forgiveness might be more of an issue for us this year than ever before.

I mention this to Elsie (who kiddingly informs me that she charges $50 an hour, which I think is pretty inexpensive for all of her wisdom). She suggests that I ask for my mother’s forgiveness, since mom is so angry about the move. I realize that she might not be able or willing to forgive, and then I’ll have the opportunity to do some letting go of my own. There certainly is an assortment of things I need to let go of from the past, in order to forgive her. It would be good to do that while I still have her around to love.The late Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman said, “We achieve inner health only through forgiveness – the forgiveness not only of others but also of ourselves.” I see how the fact that I am neither able nor willing to take care of my mother anymore – or feel responsible for her happiness – is something for which I need to offer myself forgiveness.

It’s hard to believe how my mother is declining. I feel like I’m losing her and that somehow this move she’s making confirms it. It seems really important to have things current and clean between us. This is not easy, but the High Holy Days give me a chance to focus on this task.

Norman Cousins once said, “Life is an adventure in forgiveness.” And so, as the adventure continues, the New Year begins.